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Is it through the technological instrumentalisation of our landscape that mankind has alienated itself from the natural world from where it came? How would it be possible to re-engage with Nature from the midst of our alienated landscapes? Climate change has been acclaimed as mankind’s greatest long term challenge. The reality of this threat is increasing year on year, with an annual death toll in the thousands. We realise we have disturbed Gaia, and that action needs to be taken but it would seem that the course of action is unclear. Is it possible that our direction is unclear because we have lost touch with nature and ourselves though alienation, as described by Marx? Hegel illustrates the elusive, paradoxical subject of Nature and leaves us wondering whether the human Spirit is part of nature, or alien to her. Matters are further complicated if we consider nature has a Spirit too, as suggested by Lovelock’s Gaia Theory. Our course of action seems to hinge on this unanswerable riddle. This essay sets out to discuss the issues influencing our advanced capitalist society, to shed light on the cause of this dislocation of perspective towards our position within nature. Drawing on the writings of James Carrier and Martin Heidegger, this essay will consider the influence of our landscape and environment – natural and otherwise – and plot its influence upon our behaviour, as we build up towards an ever more alienated existence from our natural environment. After examining historic examples of cultures in search of the human Spirit presaged in Nature, I will then identify key activities attempting to turn the tide of this form of alienation. In particular the quasi-activist group in London, the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’. This essay then concludes by contemplating the long term future of the movement, and its possible outcomes, towards an existence engaging with the concept of Nature.
Abstract……………………………………………………. iii List of Illustration………………………………………..... vii Acknowledgments………………………………………… viii Why all the Worry Over Global Warming?......................... Our Greatest Threat? Common Sense Nature…………………………………………………….. The World We Perceive What is Nature? All Life on Earth Landscape of Engagement…………………………..……. Positive and Negative Feedback Our Landscape In Choosing a Natural Landscape In Choosing a Technological Landscape Alienation…………………………………………………. The disembodiment of the Spectator and Spectacle An Alienated Viewpoint Spirit and Nature………………………………………….. Presaged in Spirit; Presaged in Nature Natural Farming Man and Nature Connected 1
Digging in the City………………………………………… 34 Emerging from the Belly of the Beast Cultivating our Landscape Guerrilla Gardeners Civil Disobedience Dig for Victory Bibliography……………………………………………..... 49 Appendix………………………………………………….. 55
List of Illustrations
Front Cover: Beard, K. Beetle on circuit board Image 1, What problem: Hurricane Katrina Satelite Image 2, Nature: Adastra, Earth and Stars Image 3, Landscape & Engagement: Merandon, T.Cyborg Image 4, Alienation: Flach, T. Businessman looking out window, forest view repeated on laptop Image 5, Spirit and Nature: Saquar , J.L. Sunlight shining through misty woodland Image 6, Digging in the City: Luedke & Sparrow. Mature man bent over shovelling earth in garden Image 7, CPULs: Viljoen, A. & Bohn, K. CPULS Plate 8 Image 8, Guerrilla Gardening New Cross: Reynolds, R. & Ensor, A. Image 9, Mayday 2000 Parliament Square: Renee, L. Image 10, Where has it gone: Veiga, L. London Skyline Back Cover Image: Ministry of Agriculture. Dig for Victory.
Regards to gardeners: digging, planting and sowing in the city.
To those who, instead of grumbling and shouting at the television, get out on the street and do something about it,
Why all the worry over global warming? It seems to me that, with the current massive gas price increases, we should welcome a reduction in the need to switch on the heating. Also, if it leads to more polar ice melting, then great! That will mean more fresh water available to fill our reservoirs. What’s the problem?1
A reader’s letter in London’s Metro newspaper
Trumper, J. Catastrophe? Bah! The Metro 16 March 2006
Our Greatest Threat? With the fairly recent death of Bob Hunter,2 co-founding activist of the global environmental group Greenpeace,3 it almost seems ironic to hear James Lovelock's apocalyptic view on climate change: ‘We are past the point of no return,’4 in The Independent newspaper eight months later. The synchronous nature of these two events, coincidental as they may seem, raises a great number of questions as to what went wrong. Did Hunter fail? Was the message not heard? Why did the masses not listen? 'We are in our present mess through our intelligence and inventiveness'5, continues Lovelock, atmospheric physicist and ex-NASA scientist6. Like drug addicts, we have ignored the warnings and the “inconvenient truth”: is it possible that the path we thought would lead us to peace, strength and stability has locked us into the downfall of society as we know it?
The threat of climate change hardly needs reiterating; it is accepted in most nations that climate change is a man-made crisis. However, under the Bush administration, the USA has only recently accepted that man-made actions are the cause of global warming;
their delayed acceptance led
America to infamously fail to ratify the Kyoto Treaty.8 Chat shows, newscasts, podcasts, movies, newspapers and magazines across the western world and beyond are raising the green question; “How are we going to get out of this mess?” on virtually a daily basis. The proposition of rising sea levels9, backed up by constant stories of melting ice caps10, glaciers11, sea ice12 and increased flooding13, leaves little to the imagination; particularly for those who suffer the trauma of annual flood damage and the expensive residue of hikes in household insurance left when the tides subside. Rises in sea level and a mean temperature increase are predicted to disrupt weather patterns leading to an increase in hurricanes, explaining the ferocity of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.14 Katrina gave us a taste of the economic and social devastation that is likely if climate change is not addressed. US oil prices spiralled15 as the New Orleans refinery was flooded along with the rest of the city; leaving a tragic scene of destruction in its wake. Social degradation, debauchery and anarchy prevailed as gangs,
4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Vidal, J. The Original Mr Green The Guardian 04 May 2005 Greenpeace is an environmental NGO founded in 1971, whose funding is entirely though individual donations. The organisation was started after a small group of environmentally concerned Americans took to the sea in a barely sea-worthy trawler to position themselves in a nuclear testing zone in the Pacific Ocean. This attracted great media coverage and prevented the bomb from being tested. This initial direct action was to be a model for Greenpeace’s ethos of non-violent direct action to highlight environmental injustices. [ibid.] McCarthy , M. Environment in Crisis: 'We are past the point of no return' The Independent 16 January 2006 Lovelock, J. The Revenge of Gaia London: Penguin 2006 p6 Orrell, D. Gaia Theory: Science of the Living Earth [online] http://www.gaianet.fsbusiness.co.uk/gaiatheory.html [accessed 25 October 2006] Townsend, M. & Harris, P. Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us The Guardian 22 February 2004 Karon, T. When it Comes to Kyoto, the U.S. is the "Rogue Nation" Time 24 July 2001 Lovgren , S. Warming to Cause Catastrophic Rise in Sea Level? National Geographic News 26 April 2004 Highfield, R. Arctic ice cap 'will disappear within the century' The Telegraph 05 October 2005 Lean, G. Cracking up: Ice turning to water, glaciers on the move - and a planet in peril The Independent 22 October 2006 Milmo, C. Polar bears' hunting season threatened by break-up of ice sheet The Independent 15 September 2006 Smith, L. Flood threat 'puts cities at risk of becoming Britain's New Orleans' The Times 23 August 2006 Henderson, M. Global warming linked to increase of hurricanes The Times 16 September 2005 Healey, J. Storm worsens oil, gas problems USA Today 29 August 2005
violence and looting16 became the fabric of the new social structure, with citizens liberated from the watchful eye of the Louisiana judicial system.
Apart from those directly affected by these disasters, the rest of the world watches while sitting comfortably in front of our television screens in the warmth and safety of our living rooms. The similarity of these disasters to scenes from movies and video games could enable us to detach ourselves from the reality of these terrible events, rendering the devastation as mere background wallpaper to our daily lives. The implications of climate change are devastating, as demonstrated in the flooding in Bangladesh in 2004; how could one safeguard against the strength of natural forces? The increased frequency of these disasters could send our economic system into collapse which is a thought maybe too incomprehensible for most. Tony Blair has announced that climate change is the greatest long term threat facing mankind17, while the World Health Organisation has quoted that onehundred-and-fifty-thousand people died as a direct result of climate change during the year 2000;18 a figure not including indirect deaths. Climate change is serious, so why do so few of us treat it with the seriousness that it demands?
Common Sense The greenhouse effect was first considered in 1824 by Joseph Fourier and later quantified by Svante Arrhenius in 189619 in his paper: On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground. In this essay, Arrhenius demonstrates a connection between the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere and the warming of the planet, since the atmosphere acts like the ‘glass of a hothouse’.20 However, it was not until 1971,21 nearly one-hundred-and-fifty years after Fourier’s first insights, that the environmental organisation Greenpeace was founded by Bob Hunter and friends, reflecting a growing concern towards the way our society has developed creating a damaging effecting on both humanity and the environment. With all this compelling evidence mounting up, indicating the extent of mankind's impact on the planet – let alone common sense and a wealth of traditional wisdom ingrained in our belief systems – why then is it that the majority of people do not acknowledge the importance of Nature, and our inseparable symbiotic relationship with it? Furthermore, among the fraction of the population who are conscious of these issues, why do so few actually act on this information? This essay sets out to discuss the issues influencing our advanced capitalist society to shed light on the cause of this dislocation of perspective towards our position within nature. This essay does not attempt to determine
16 Jonsson, P. Katrina Survivors Combat Looting CBS News 28 March 2006 17 Tempest, M. Blair Faces the Liaison Commitee The Guardian 03 February 2004 18 World Health Organisation, Climate Change [online] WHO 2000 http://www.who.int/heli/risks/climate/climatechange/ [accessed 23 October 2006] 19 Wikipedia Greenhouse Effect [online] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_effect [accessed 25 October 2006] 20 Arrhenius, S. On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground Philosophical Magazine 41, (237-276) pi 1896 21 Greenpeace International The History of Greenpeace [online] http://www.greenpeace.org [accessed 25 October 2006]
the reason for the failing of mankind, as important a subject as this is to consider – that is the job for philosophy, theology and individual contemplation. Many writers have attempted to address the ‘fall’, with the inevitable conclusion coming to rest upon self-interest and greed. It could be appropriate to cast a blanket accusation of such a nature on this subject, suggesting that we adopt a more primitive lifestyle – as concluded by Freud22 – but this would provide little discussion for an architectural essay.
In a more productive and architecturally-directed manner, this essay will consider the influence of our landscape and environment, natural and otherwise, and plot its influence upon our behaviour as urbanisation builds up towards an evermore alienated existence from our natural environment. I will then identify key activities attempting to turn the tide of this form of alienation, in particular the quasiactivist group in London, the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’. This essay then concludes by contemplating the long term future of the movement, and its possible outcomes, towards an existence engaging with the concept of Nature.
To hypothesize: is it through the technological instrumentalisation of our landscape that mankind has alienated itself from the natural world from where it came? Would this trajectory lead us towards a point at which we might no longer recognise nature as our beginning? Would this sense of alienation exacerbate reluctance to act, as the significance of our environmental predicament becomes increasingly misunderstood? How would it be possible to re-engage with Nature from the midst of our alienated landscapes? And furthermore, from the depths of our misunderstanding – why would we want to re-engage?
The extent of change we make to our lifestyle can only represent our understanding of the wider and deeper issues surrounding the philosophy of nature. The Finnish word for city (kaupunki) is a derivative for the verb to trade (kauppa), immediately indicating the priority of the inhabitants. It could be argued that if we truly understood the importance and value of nature we would truly live in harmony with it. William Golding, speaking about Lovelock’s theories, commented that ‘scientists [in common with over half of the world’s population23] are usually condemned to lead urban lives, but I find that country people still living close to the earth often seem puzzled that anyone should need to make a formal proposition of anything as obvious as the Gaia hypothesis. For them it is true and always has been.’24
22 Freud, S. & Strachey, J. Civilization and Its Discontents New York: W W Norton & Co 2005 p91 23 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Urban and Rural Areas 2003 UN [online] 2004 http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications [accessed 29 December 2006] 24 Lovelock, J. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth Oxford: Oxford University Press 2000 p10
The World We Perceive The relationship between mankind and the environment that we exist in is an elusive topic of study, providing no clear definition or conclusive boundary. Our window into our surrounding environment depends upon an abundance of influences. Any statement that a reputable study can produce can only be speculative with respect to the author’s own individual interpretation of his or her relationship with nature; i.e. representative of any one point in time framed by a forever evolving cultural and social background. It has been commented that the ‘way we perceive the world around us is not uniform for all people at all times, but rather each of us sees it in his or her own way.’25
Prior to the emergence of science as a subject of study, and arguably a modern day religion, our belief systems were represented and understood through religion. Both these belief systems –science and religion – have given societies a stringent set of guidelines to follow, which would have been passed down from generation to generation in written and vocal form. Essentially, because world religions have evolved from different cultures, experiences and geographical locations, so too do cultural attitudes differ towards the concept of nature. Western society has an inherent Christian background which influences our collective attitudes towards nature. ‘To the Christian [Nature] was interpreted as the world freshly created and, as far as human life was concerned, man before the Fall’.26 Science sees nature as a series of events to be described; with the doctrine of mathematics being the language of nature it could almost be said that science is the natural religion. However, the ideal of science is the complete objectification and ‘as far as is possible, the elimination of the human equation.’27‘The Buddhist perception of nature in Japan approached two essential techniques for fulfilling the goal of enlightenment …the contemplation of paradise in symbolic creation and physical involvement.’28 This involves asceticism and pilgrimage, requiring extended periods of time in engagement with ‘pure land’. For example; the ‘marathon monks’ of Mount Hiei undertook extraordinarily grueling tasks by running nearly forty-thousand miles in one thousand consecutive days up and down the mountain. This is followed by a death-defying nine-day fasting of food, drink and sleep. Having survived this feat, they finish by running for a further three-hundred days. This engagement with themselves and the landscape is said to endow them with profound illuminations in search of enlightenment.
25 Redman, C. Human Impact on Ancient Environments Arizona: University of Arizona Press 1999 p6 26 Boas, G. Nature Dictionary of the History of Ideas, University of Virginia [online] 2003 http://etext.lib.virginia.edu [accessed 07 July 2006] 27 Boas, G. Nature Dictionary of the History of Ideas, University of Virginia [online] 2003 http://etext.lib.virginia.edu [accessed 07 July 2006] 28 Tobias, M. A Vision of Nature Kent: Kent State University Press 1995 p91
Nature confronts us a riddle and a problem, whose solution both attracts and repels us: attracts us, because Spirit is presaged in Nature; repels us, because Nature seems an alien existence in which the Spirit does not find itself. 29
29 Miller, A. Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature Oxford: Oxford University Press 1970 p3
What is Nature? In his statement in the introduction to his famous paper Philosophy of Nature, G.F. Hegel highlights the paradoxical nature of the concept of ‘Nature’. He suggests that the Spirit is both presaged in Nature, while also deity alien to Nature. His statement entirely revolves around a belief in the existence of the human ‘Spirit’, which in turn evokes questions of religion and further more the elusive study of the relationship of the human ‘Spirit’ and the physical body. This paradox is also considered by Blaise Pascal; ‘But what is nature? For is custom not natural? I am much afraid that nature is itself only a first custom, as custom is a second nature.’30
It could be argued that on one hand, with the Spirit being presaged in Nature, anything the human spirit applies itself to is Nature itself, thus the idea of trying to act naturally or obeying nature’s law is a nonsense, and any hypothesis sympathetic to reconnecting with nature is fundamentally flawed from the outset. Marshall McLuhan proposed in his book The Medium is the Message, that everything we fabricate is an extension of our body; e.g. cloths are an extension of the skin, and a spade is an extension of hands and feet.31 In other words, Spirit and Nature are inseparable. However, if this is the case, it would suggest that the human Spirit is governed by fate and does not possess the liberty of free choice. This attitude could lead to an ethos devoid of right or wrong as it would suggest that whatever action one takes is part of Nature’s binding law. One could go on to consider murder as a part of Nature – although few juries would accept this as a defense, and the convict might have to accept a life sentence while still considering this to be fate. Returning to the first side of Hegel’s statement; if the human Spirit is presaged in Nature – suggesting that Nature is our default primitive state – and we believe that we hold the liberty of free choice, it would seem our present state has arisen from a number of wrong choices in disagreement with the Spirit. It could be suggested that if we followed our Spirit then perhaps we would be both physically and spiritually presaged in Nature?
The counter-side of Hegel’s paradox suggests that Spirit is alien to Nature. Again, this in turn brings up another paradox. If the human Spirit is alien from Nature, then anything the human Spirit applies itself to is not natural; although what could be more natural than breathing, sheltering, foraging or migrating? As Hegel writes, ‘need impels us to turn nature to our advantage, to exploit and harness.’32 Our alien relationship to Nature could explain why human action has tended to pursue evasion of Nature’s binding rhythms through our use of technology. The house remains clean and hygienic inside, while outside is seemingly chaotic and dirty. Evolving from the realms of science fiction lays a desire as extreme as evasion of old age, and ultimately death – both part and parcel of Nature’s cycles; what could be more alien? In turn, attempting to act naturally becomes a logical statement but acting
30 Pascal, B. Pensées Christian Classics Ethereal Library [online] 2005 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pascal/pensees.iii.html [accessed 18 December 2006] 31 Kappelman, T. Marshall McLuhan: "The Medium is the Message" LeadershipU [online] 2001 http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/mcluhan.html [accessed 28 December 2006] 32 Hegel, G.F. Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature Vol 1 London: Rouledge 1970 p194
naturally would be alien. ‘What could be more paradoxical than the attempt to restore nature …by means which are wholly dependent on human interference?’33 Achieving a natural relationship with Nature, to any degree of perfection, would be entirely impossible as we could only ever hope to make blind or naïve attempts at this.
This essay makes no attempt to prove or disprove the existence of the human Spirit, fate or their relationship with the physical environment. ‘The question, “what is nature?” can always be asked and never completely answered.’34 It does however attempt to highlight and consider the disregard for the physical environment, and bring to the discussion glimpses of cultures and ideas in which the human Spirit has presaged in Nature, but also cases in which the human Spirit is alienated from Nature.
All Life on Earth James Lovelock’s Gaia theory presents an interesting interplay with Hegel’s paradox. Lovelock indicates on a number of occasions his understanding of Gaia as a living organism.35 He argues that it possesses all the tell-tale signs of a living organism, but because of her sheer size we find it incomprehensible. His description could lead one to wonder whether Gaia possesses a Spiritual aspect as well.
Lovelock was trained as an atmospheric physicist, and was employed by NASA during the 1960’s to devise a means of determining the existence of life on Mars. Lovelock approached the project by examining how one would determine the existence of life on Earth. He considered that life would only exist in the presence of energy with tell-tale entropic signs. For entropy to reduce there needed to be some kind of conveyor medium; transferring energy from life form to life form, such as soil, the oceans or the atmosphere. Energy traces would be left in these mediums altering their chemical makeup leaving a volatile composition. Mars has no oceans and an inert atmosphere indicating a dead planet: unwelcome news for the space research programme.36
Gaia – named after the Greek Earth goddess – draws on cybernetic theory, suggesting that all life on Earth is part of a grand non-linear feedback system. The theory proposes that Gaia regulates her climate to be fit for life,37 in the same way that our body sweats when too hot, and shivers when too cold; regulating our temperature at the optimum level of 37.5ºC. After further research, Lovelock uncovered a great number of these systems, where organisms manipulate their immediate environment in minute ways, but collectively creating the fine balance that enables life to exist on Earth. In this sense Gaia is alive – an idea ringing true with the spiritually aware, corresponding to interpretations of
33 34 35 36 37 Habgood, J. The Concept of Nature London: Darton, Longman & Todd 2002 p53 Hegel G.F. Philosophy of Nature Vol 1 London: Rouledge 1970 p194 Lovelock, J. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth Oxford: Oxford University Press 1979 pxii ibid. pp1-7 Orrell, D. Gaia Theory: Science of the Living Earth [online] http://www.gaianet.fsbusiness.co.uk [accessed 25 October 2006]
Mother Nature and God. While still viewed as controversial, Lovelock’s Gaia Theory is valued because it has inspired new debate, experiment and understanding of Earth and our environmental predicament.38 As new evidence is uncovered, and data collected, it seems as though Lovelock’s prophetic view is becoming true. Spiritual or not, the planet is warming up, and becoming warmer at a progressively alarming rate. If one part of the control variables in a negative feedback system becomes defunct, then Gaia will lock into a positive feedback meltdown; no longer regulating itself, but amplifying the outcome – the result is fever.
Ocean algae systems that affected climate change by pumping down carbon dioxide and made clouds …as the carbon dioxide abundance approaches 500ppm, regulation began to fail and there was a sudden upwards jump in temperature. The cause was the failure of the ocean ecosystem. As the world grew warm, the algae were denied nutrients by the expanding warm surface of the oceans, until eventually they became extinct. As the area of ocean covered by algae grew smaller, their cooling effect diminished and the temperature surged upwards. 39 ‘Climate change “irreversible” as Arctic sea ice fails to re-form’,40 reads a recent newspaper headline. ‘Albedo’ feedback observes that snow reflects almost all sunlight falling on it. As the snow melts, it leaves uncovered ground, which absorbs the sun’s heat – thus melting the ice and amplifying the problem. One would assume that there are an unquantifiable large number of positive feedback systems that are as yet undiscovered. While albedo feedback draws on basic physics principles, Lovelock demonstrates a number of complex systems, at both micro and macro scales, whose contribution to global warming initiate at different stages of warming – once positive feedback has begun their contribution will become inevitable. For example, the frozen peat bogs in Siberia contain solidified methane. These bogs total an equal land area to that of France and Germany combined. As the bogs thaw out up to 70bn tonnes of methane will be released into the atmosphere. Current global warming predictions are based on current emissions and do not consider the idea of additional greenhouse gas reservoirs becoming opened up and released into the atmosphere. Methane is 20 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and scientist believe these climate change sinks will lead to a 10-25% increase in global warming, once melted. The thawing process has already begun.41
38 39 40 41
Lovelock, J. Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth Oxford: Oxford University Press 1979 p10 Lovelock, J. The Revenge of Gaia London: Penguin 2006 p32 Conner, S. Climate change 'irreversible' as Arctic sea ice fails to re-form The Independent 14 March 2006 Sample, I. Warming hits ‘tipping point’ The Guardian 11 August 2005
If we don't take action very soon, we could unleash runaway global warming that will be beyond our control and it will lead to social, economic and environmental devastation worldwide… There's still time to take action, but not much.42
Tony Juniper, Friends of the Earth
Positive and Negative Feedback If we are part of Gaia and our surroundings are also, this puts a new perspective on the way we relate to the natural environment, and the landscape we inhabit, emphasizing our symbiotic relationship. While it is easy to observe our influence on the external environment, the extent to which our external environment influences us is perhaps not so apparent. The environmental psychologists Andrew Baum and Stuart Valins back up this idea of external influence on our lives: ‘Our behaviour is a product of the physical and social environments that we inhabit.’43 In 1997 Baum and Valins performed a detailed study into the arrangement of student accommodation and its effects on their behaviour. By comparing two types of accommodation, firstly a ‘corridor’ style layout, resembling a series of regimented cells, and secondly a ‘suite’ style layout, where a repeatable cluster is used comprising of bedrooms arranged around a communal living room. The corridor layout predominantly isolated the occupants, and provided little space for interaction. The occupants displayed little control over the spaces, resulting in more undesired interactions and restricted the development of community and collective ownership of the spaces. The suite layout maintained privacy, but also provided a gradient between private and collective spaces. This aided the development of community and collective ownership of the space, facilitating a higher level of control over the spaces resulting in more desired interactions.44 Baum and Valins’ findings indicate that there is a strong connection with the arrangement of space and the resident’s wellbeing and behaviour; in this case depression, course dropout rates, control over desired interactions and the formation of friendship groups and community.
Reading this in relation to Hegel’s paradox, it would suggest that on the one hand, if the human Spirit presaged in Gaia, then our behaviour would be a product of Gaia – our environment. This would back up Baum and Valins’ assertion and Lovelock’s Gaia theory, as our behaviour would be a personification of Gaia’s negative feedback system. However, the question of the existence of fate versus individual desire and ambition would still be unanswered. If freedom of choice were so, then it would stand to reason that when presented with an action which defines Gaia, we have a choice to comply or to follow our own will. Thus if the situation arose where we were becoming alienated from Gaia, we would be out of touch with nature and would struggle to understand her – let alone maintain her balance. One could also argue that if there were no free choice and all action is reaction to Gaia, then the impending threat of climate chaos would crush society as we know it and balance would be restored – completing the negative feedback loop. Again, on the counter side of Hegel’s paradox, if the Spirit is alien to Gaia, understanding how to maintain the balance would be an objective in its own right, and an alienated existence would further hinder achieving this.
43 Baum, A. & Valins, S. Architecture and Social Behaviour Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum 1997 p19 44 ibid. p20-23
Our landscape, as defined by Barbara Bender, is basically “the world out there’ as understood, experienced, and engaged with through human consciousness and active involvement.’45 Could it be these experiences and interactions that give our external environment meaning and relevance? These experiences turn space into place. Christopher Tilley suggests that these interactions may ‘choreograph time and space and create a sense of belonging through assuming a particular material form in which inhabitants both present themselves to others and present themselves to themselves.’46 Thus our landscape is provocateur for forming shared and individual experiences of identity and community. Similarly to the individual’s interpretation of nature, ‘even as experienced by a single person [landscapes] are multiple and contradictory'47 and framed by our ever changing social and cultural background. Taking into account that our landscape comprises of our experiences and interactions – which shape our identity and behaviour – it becomes paramount to focus our attention on the material which forms our landscape.
In Choosing Natural Landscapes It would be difficult to dispute the mental and physical health benefits gained by spending time in the countryside. Open space and the uninterrupted rhythm of the landscape provides a contrast from the hustle and bustle of city life. A stronger sense of community is the typical picture painted of a relaxed rural lifestyle. Clean air and rain, exercise and a healthy diet of fresh vegetables, and the cultivation of plants and vegetables is known to have positive effects on well-being; this kind of physical and mental stimulation is often described as therapeutic. Our landscape influences our state-of-mind; this in turn influences our social interactions, which makes up our landscape. This self influencing circle results in either a positive or a negative state-of-mind, suggesting that it would be beneficial to nurture a green landscape
The relationship between psychological well-being and vegetation has never been proven scientifically. However, the colour green, and a dappled light caused by a woodland canopy has been suggested to encourage a less stressful state-of-mind. In a recent experiment by Virginia Lohr, participants were asked to complete a simple computer task in a closed environment, with and without the presence of house plants. Lohr’s results indicated a prolonged attention span and a reduction of blood pressure when plants were present in the room.48 During the 1800s, although not uncommon to present day attitudes, members of the Parisian bourgeoisie increasingly saw the rural landscape as something to visit and value, leading to the rise of tourism.49 While the importance of being idle can
45 46 47 48 Tilley, C. Identity, Place, Landscape and Heritage Journal of Material Culture Vol. 11 (1/2) p7 2006 ibid. p14 Carrier, J. Mind, Gaze and Engagement Journal of Material Culture Vol. 8 (1) p 11 2003 Lohr, V. Interior plants may improve worker productivity and reduce stress in a windowless environment Washington State university [online] http://www.plants-in-buildings.com/whyplantsstressreduction [accessed 30 December 2006] 49 Carrier, J. Mind, Gaze and Engagement Journal of Material Culture Vol. 8 (1) p 8 2003
be imperative, the need to evade the city raises interest, particularly if this activity becomes increasingly popular. This would suggest that the city is not providing everything to maintain an optimum inhabitable environment. The arising value that the Parisians placed on the countryside, as a self-gratifying tourist destination, indicates an increasing division between city and country. A situation rebuked by Ebenezer Howard, who envisioned a ‘stable marriage between city and country, not a weekend liaison.’50
In Choosing Technological Landscapes With the march of development and technological progress, it could be considered that our landscape of engagements, particularly in the urban environment, have become increasingly orientated around the ‘unnatural’ material of the machine world. We wake up to the sound of an electronic dawn chorus, prompting us to draw the curtains that protect us from sunrise. Stepping into the bathroom, we gain access to all manner of technological brushing, spraying, washing, drying and hygiene gadgets preventing micro-colonies of ‘nature’ from developing on our bodies. Into the kitchen for breakfast – thankfully microwave ‘pop-tarts’ never caught on – we catch a glimpse of the morning news on the television before climbing into the car to be transported to the office etcetera etcetera. This is a story probably all too familiar to a large proportion of the developed world’s population. Our landscape is immersed in technology. Even Blake referred to the “Satanic Mills” littering the countryside, in his poem Jerusalem, written in 180451 at a time when England was presumably a significantly more ‘green and pleasant land’ than it is today. However, ‘the issue is not that machines are evil nor that they have taken over, but that in constantly choosing to use them over every other alternative, we make many other unwitting choices’52 We all know the powerful effect television has in silencing a room of people, or the aggravation experienced from navigating a city such as London by car, when it could be argued that it is often quicker, and overall more beneficial, to travel by bicycle. While television provides an excellent medium for engaging huge swathes of the population, unifying the country, and providing up-to-date information, in choosing to allow the television to occupy our leisure time it leaves little space for stimulating or exercising one’s own creative imagination through either social engagement or artistic expression.
50 Little, C. Greenways For America Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press 1990 p15-17 51 Blake, W. The Complete Poems London: Penguin 2004 p514 52 Feenberg, A. From Essentialism to Constructivism: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads San Diego State University [online] 2004 http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/feenberg/talk4.html [accessed 07 July 2006]
Martin Heidegger observes the impact of our technological landscape:
We have become little more than objects of technique, incorporated into the very mechanism we have created. …An “objectless” heap of functions replaces a world of “things” treated with respect for their own sake as the gathering places of our manifold engagements with “being”.53 M. Heidegger
Marshal McLuhan provocatively summed this up by declaring that ‘technology has reduced us to the “sex organs of the machine world”.’54 In his critique of Heidegger’s Question of Technology Andrew Feenberg suggests that while technology poses a real threat to society, the important issue is purpose and instrumentality. He highlights this issue using Heidegger’s example of the Greek craftsman, carving a wooden chalice, compared to the damming of the River Rhine by a modern engineer. Feenberg explains that the craftsman, by sculpting a form, symbolically brings out the ‘truth’ in the material and the application. Whereas the engineer obliterates and ‘de-worlds’ the potential of the material ‘and “summons” nature to fit into his plan’55 in a manner that one could associate with Super Studio’s futurological extrapolations.56 Feenberg seems to imply that for the craft of technology to become in balance with nature, it needs to search and express ‘being’, through human purpose. This implies that there is a spiritual process at work when one applies technology in this manner. However Heidegger concluded that ‘there is no escape but retreat’,57 and in his last interview he explained that “Only God can save us’ from the juggernaut of progress.’58
53 ibid 54 Feenberg, A. From Essentialism to Constructivism: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads San Diego State University [online] 2004 http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/feenberg/talk4.html [accessed 07 July 2006] 55 ibid. 56 Super Studio existed during the 1970’s and produced a controversial critique challenging the objectification of the built environment through text, illustration and they’re well known ‘de-humanised’ furniture. See Lang, P. Menking, W. Super Studio: Life Without Objects Milan: Skira Editore 2003 57 Feenberg, A. From Essentialism to Constructivism: Philosophy of Technology at the Crossroads San Diego State University [online] 2004 http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/faculty/feenberg/talk4.html [accessed 07 July 2006] 58 ibid.
The Disembodiment of the Spectator and the Spectacle This lamentation towards progress is also reflected by James Carrier when he says; ‘the rise of modern society has put people at a distance from [the natural] environment and has affected the ways they think about it.’59 Carrier implies that disengagement with nature has alienated us from it. His example of the bourgeois Parisian ‘tourist gaze’ highlights that while they were in search of nature, they were not engaging with nature on a very practical level. They were consuming nature as a commodity, to be accepted and interpreted on their terms, and vacated once they had finished with it – nature had become something to observe from afar.60 Tim Ingold further suggests that such people no longer engage with their environment ‘as though they had themselves stepped outside it, posing as mere spectators’.61 Inherently a society progressing towards this state would be increasingly alienated from nature and their landscape – even so far as to become alienated from life itself. Thus it stands to reason that a society progressing towards this state would struggle to understand the importance of the human relationship to nature.
This alienated viewpoint has prompted discussion about man’s relationship with nature in many fields. Discussion of this relationship is of great interest to architects, whose diverse research pursues space, landscape and habitation. If architecture is our fabricated landscape, and fabricated space becomes our ‘nature’, those who actively appropriate, manipulate and change our landscape, play an important role in exploring and re-presenting this relationship. While architects do not hold ultimate possession of the production of space – by any stretch of the imagination – the responsibility given by division of labour rests upon them as specialists in this area. This reiterates the importance that the architect searches for cognition and engagement with his or her landscape.
An Alienated Viewpoint It could be observed that speculation upon nature in this manner, is only possible because one can externalize their position within Nature – becoming a spectator. Marx deals with the concept of alienation in a paper entitled ‘Estranged Labour’ of 1844, and then developed in later writings. He describes four types of estranged labour:
1) Alienation of the product from the producer 2) Alienation of the act from the product 3) Alienation of nature from men 4) Alienation of man from his species-being (a term referring to the meaning of being man himself)62
59 60 61 62 Carrier, J. Mind, Gaze and Engagement Journal of Material Culture Vol. 8 (1) p 9 2003 ibid. p 8-10 Ingold, T. Culture, Nature, Environment. In: Croll, E. and Parkin, D. (ed) Bush Base: Forest Farm London: Routledge 1992 p52 McLellan, D. Alienation in Hegel and Marx Dictionary of the History of Ideas, University of Virginia [online] 2003
In his essay, Marx implies that a society whose means of production follows a regime based on the division of labour, manifests a state of alienation within it.63 According to Marx, any labourer under this regime works towards a situation where he no longer understands what he is doing, who he is, or what he is there for. ‘So much does the realization of labour appear as loss of reality that the worker loses his reality to the point of dying of starvation.’64
It is recognised that Marx wrote this manuscript with the intention of challenging the means of production. However, his critique on alienation holds relevance in understanding an attitude of alienation from nature as highlighted in point (3). Marx suggests that alienation from one of the four identified categories would simultaneously exacerbate alienation from the other three. If it is through estranged labour that man alienates himself from his work, and thus from his species-being, then alienation from nature is conclusive as nature is embodied in man. ‘To say that man’s physical and mental life is linked to nature simply means that nature is linked to itself, for man is part of nature.’65
This is proactively addressed by Hegel: ‘This alienation would cease when men became fully selfconscious and understood their environment and their culture to be emanations of Spirit.’66
http://etext.lib.virginia.edu [accessed 07 July 2006] 63 Marx, K. Enstranged Labour 1844 Marxist Internet Archive [online] http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm [accessed 30 November 2006] 64 ibid. 65 Marx, K. Enstranged Labour 1844 Marxist Internet Archive [online] http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/labour.htm [accessed 30 November 2006] 66 McLellan, D. Alienation in Hegel and Marx Dictionary of the History of Ideas, University of Virginia [online] 2003 http://etext.lib.virginia.edu [accessed 07 July 2006]
Presaged in Spirit; Presaged in Nature It has been proposed that the boundary of what is considered ‘nature’ is indefinable at a collective level; so to the individual, the threshold would occur at many different stages of engagement. Thus it becomes understandable that at every step of mankind’s journey towards development, there would be a voice in opposition, calling on it to adopt a more ‘Natural’ lifestyle. This is expressed in both religious and secular belief systems, indicating that the notion surpasses any institutionalised instruction. The Jewish belief system suggests that by taking the Nazarite vow – set out in the Torah in the Book of Numbers 6:4 – the Nazarite devotee refrains from cutting their hair, drinking wine or coming into contact with dead bodies; this was considered a profound lifestyle statement. It has been speculated that John the Baptist was a Nazarite,67 because he lived in the desert, wore camel skin clothes and ate honey and locusts. By refusing to indulge in developed society, the devotee is said to become closer to God by setting themselves apart. 68
Henry Thoreau’s masterwork, Walden (1854), tells his personal story as he moved out of society and withdrew to live in a simple log cabin in the woods by Walden pond in Massachusetts. His intention was to clear his Spirit, and be rid of all those things that society had brought upon him, that weighed him down – thus by liberating himself from this entanglement, he felt that he could focus himself on life69.
67 Parry, H. Positive Deviants London Institute of Contemporary Christianity 2006 [online] http://www.licc.org.uk [accessed 20 October 2006] 68 Wikipedia Nazarite 2006 [online] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/nazarite 69 Rockford E.T. Why did Thoreau live in the woods? The Thoreau Reader 2001 [online] http://thoreau.eserver.org/answer.html [accessed 19 December 2006]
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.70 H.T. Thoreau
70 Thoreau, H.T. Walden; or, Life in the Woods New York: Dover Publications 1995 p59
Examples such as Thoreau and the Nazarite vow represent a notion of reflection upon society’s relationship to ‘development’; the result would seem to suggest a return-to-nature lifestyle. In both cases the main intention is not to contemplate the concept of Nature, but the contemplation of the human Spirit. Thus, upon brief speculation, both cases would appear to conclude that existing in a state in Nature is a requisite to embracing the human Spirit. Present day attempts to return-to-nature appear to derive predominantly from a desire to find nature, although a spiritual affiliation is generally present. Becoming increasingly publicized, communitarian organic farms are attracting more and more people who feel this alienation from nature needs to be addressed. Meanwhile devotees to the capitalist regime see these farms as ‘hippy cults’, and a form of escapism from the reality that they know.
Inhabitants of these farms – such as Tinker’s Bubble in Somerset – practice a frugal way of life, engaging with nature on a much higher level than residents of more technologically developed communities such as London. They orientate their lives around working the land for their livelihood and wellbeing; placing a more direct dependency upon Gaia. At Tinker’s Bubble, occupants grow vegetables and fruit, keep hens, make yogurt and cheese from the milk produced by their dairy cows, and they press their own apple juice and coppice the surrounding woodland.71 They are an entirely fossil fuel free community living in self-built low impact buildings and tents. In 1999, after a long and arduous struggle, they were awarded five-year temporary planning permission.72 They have been declared a success, albeit a fairly inefficient one, and have set up a network to aid others trying to set up similar return-to-nature existences.73 While self sufficiency is an aim, their means of production has not completely abolished the division of labour. They sell their apple juice and surplus produce to the local villages and markets appealing to sustainability enthusiasts, health conscious people and the bourgeois, enticed by the specialist individuality of their produce. With this little money they are able to buy clothes, materials, and tools and allow themselves the odd luxury.
With the exception of and Samson their Shire-horse, to some extent the technological instrumentalisation of their landscape still exists; a wood fired steam engine is used to mill timber, and a whole host of manual tools have been purchased to help their efforts. With the exception of the steam engine, their landscape of technological engagement comprises of simple instruments which could be considered to express ‘being’, through human purpose – as described by Feenberg. While it would appear that the residents at Tinker’s Bubble are using far more ‘natural’ methods of farming, when compared to today’s conventional methods, it never-the-less involves a high level of labour and human intervention to produce and sustain a staple crop to survive on. One could argue that this is not therefore true natural farming, as agriculture is not a natural process. To be precise, the only truly
71 Economads Tinker’s Bubble [online] http://economands.com/log20020524-20020531 [accessed 20 March 2006] 72 Fairlie, S. Tinker’s Tailored Living The Guardian 19 January 1999 73 Economads Tinker’s Bubble [online] http://economands.com/log20020524-20020531 [accessed 20 March 2006]
‘natural’ farming is that of hunter-gatherers.74 Unfortunately there are few places one could describe as such a ‘Garden of Eden’ left in the world where this is still possible.
Natural Farming One method of ‘natural farming’ is taught by Masanobu Fukuoka, whose progressive attitudes towards technological regression are outlined in his manifesto The One Straw Revolution. This owes its title to the idea sown by a single straw of rice which Mr. Fukuoka saw while walking in his fields one day, which – to his surprise – not in a sunken paddy field; the healthy rice seedling had sprouted in a field of long grass and weed. From then on Mr. Fukuoka did not flood his fields, as has been done traditionally for centuries; and his search began to understand the natural patterns of his natural landscape began.
Realizing that the rice had been self-sown from the wind, blowing the ripened rice grains onto unsaturated land, he decided to sow the rice directly to the surface of the field in autumn, instead of plowing and sowing in spring. The rice fields are inter-sown with barley and clover, and the weeds remain – creating a more bio-diverse, natural habitat. Mr. Fukuoka calls his natural farming methods ‘do-nothing’ farming as the objective is for as little intervention and labour as possible. He does not use any machinery or chemicals, or even plough his fields or spread prepared compost – yet he produces comparable yields to that of traditional or chemical techniques. While chemical methods reduce labour requirements, and thus wages, they ultimately do not return any nutrients back to the land. Initial yields are high as the land is still fertile, but as this resource is exploited, farmers are forced to apply additional man-made additives to maintain yields. The result is that eventually the land becomes dead. Traditional methods, or organic methods as they are know today, require more labour intensive processes – they respect biodiversity and local ecologies by not using any chemical additives. Prepared compost is spread on the land, and crop rotation is used to improve soil conditions; however Mr. Fukuoka suggests that this can only ever maintain the quality. The ‘do-nothing’ method reduces labour while the soil quality improves over time, improving in fertility, structure and water retention; thus increasing the yield.75 Some of these ideas are similar to permaculture techniques;76 however Fukuoka’s attitude towards farming suggests a more spiritual perspective. It demands that practitioners strive to understand the natural rhythms of nature – one could say – the nature of Nature. This, he reiterates, ‘requires knowledge and persistent effort …by cooperation with nature rather than trying to “improve” upon
74 Korn, L. in Fukuoka, M. One Straw Revolution Emmaus: Rodale Press 1978 p xviii 75 Korn, L. in Fukuoka, M. One Straw Revolution Emmaus: Rodale Press 1978 pp xv-xxi 76 Permaculture is Bill Mollison’s holistic solution for long term sustainable agriculture. Permaculture rebukes mono-cultures and involves creating integrated ecologies seeing waste as a resource. His progressive ideas are often championed by the green movement
nature by conquest.’77 This is why Mr. Fukuoka and his students ‘live in this semi-primitive manner’ because he has found that this way of life enables him to gain a greater understanding of nature and ‘develop the sensitivity necessary to farm by his natural methods.’78 It becomes an intense battle to adjust the local biological landscape to provide an environmental system tilted in the favor of the crops. This can take years of dedicated work as the aim is no longer the plants themselves but the whole landscape. Additionally, most farming landscapes have been subjected to chemical farming methods adding further complexities and a long term commitment to healing the unfruitful land.
Mr. Fukuoka’s claims of ‘do-nothing’ farming raises questions to his definition of labour. While on the one hand he suggests even the ‘Sunday farmer’ can utilize his methods79 – he also talks of years of dedication and striving for understanding. This could imply that the labour he refers to is solely physical labour, and when he refers to ‘doing nothing’ it is mental or spiritual observation occupying his hours – time to stand and stare. Feuerbach refers to this as his ‘species-being’, or to simply exist as man himself. Mr. Fukuoka does not claim to be a religious man, although his conversations often include Buddhist, Taoist and Christian theological and philosophical discussions. It would appear that Mr. Fukuoka’s time is divided between a physical and spiritual attempt to be presaged in Nature.
Mr. Fukuoka believes that natural farming proceeds from the spiritual health of the individual. He considers the healing of the land and the purification of the human spirit to be one process.80
Man and Nature Connected There are many ancient cultures which demonstrate an understanding of the relationship of spirit and Nature. Chief Seattle, a Native American Indian whose name was taken by the Washington city, famously replied to Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens’ demands for submission of land rights. In his speech given in 1854, Seattle indicates the connection between his people and the natural landscape, while submitting to the white aggressors.81
What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. 82
77 78 79 80 81
Korn, L. in Fukuoka, M. One Straw Revolution Emmaus: Rodale Press 1978 p xviii ibid. p xvii ibid. p xx Korn, L. in Fukuoka, M. One Straw Revolution Emmaus: Rodale Press 1978 p xxv Seattle has often been misquoted by the green movement as his speech was greatly elaborated and for a television play, to provide powerfully specific assertions on mans relationship with nature. However the original report – a compelling lament of a dissolving culture – is still available. 82 Wikiquote Chief Seattle 1854 [online] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Chief_Seattle [accessed 20 March 2006]
The Native American Indians historically existed as a nomadic culture, living a more hunter gatherer lifestyle. They migrated across the American Prairie following the herds of buffalo which they depended upon for their food – living a lifestyle so wholly dependent upon nature would give a greater respect for it in providing a livelihood.
The Bishnoi tribes of Rajasthan, North India, are well renowned for their understanding of their intrinsic relationship with Nature. Their devotional action in preserving ecology makes even the most radical present day environmentalist movement look like kindergarten. In 1730, the Maharaja of Jodphur had sent a group of men to fell Khejri trees, native to the Bishnoi village. He required the timber to burn lime for the construction of his new palace. Amrita Devi, an elderly woman of the sleepy village of Khejarli, came cross the group, and when she learnt of their intention she declared that she would rather give away her life to save the trees. They severed her head with an axe. Her three daughters followed her example, and one by one as the surrounding villages heard of the news, 363 tribesmen and women gave their lives to protect the trees. These tragic demonstrations led the Maharaja to pass a law to protect the Khejri trees and local animals within the Bishnoi village boundaries.83 Although they claim not to be part of any religious order, their belief system stems from Jainism; a faith originating from India which places equality on the Spirit of all living organisms. This perspective could be hard to perceive from a western belief system based on anthropocentrism. But to equate: for the Bishnoi people, saving the life of a tree is equally important as saving a human life.
Although in the Western world, environmentalism is not seen in such a strongly spiritual light as the Bishnoi, there is a growing movement expressing a need to readdress our relationship with nature from within the depths of our alienation. While Bob Hunter may have headed Greenpeace, possibly the most prominent environmental pressure group the world has seen, it is by no means the ultimate. Greenpeace has often had to compromise their green morals in order to achieve progress, and more radical such as Rising Tide84 and Earth First,85 group often consider Greenpeace to be quite middle-ofthe-road. Many green pressure groups focus on changing policy and public attitudes towards climate change. They hope that this will encourage a knock-on effect on the production of space and the urban fabric. Meanwhile, there are other groups engaged with evolving our shifting urban landscape towards a reinterpretation of our relationship with Nature.
83 Wikipedia The Khejrali Massacre [online] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishnois [accessed 20 December 2006] 84 Rising Tides is a non-hierarchical movement with no membership structure. They believe that climate change is a direct result of economic domination of the developed countries and multinational corporations. [online] http://www.earthfirst.org 85 Earth First is also a non-hierarchical movement with no membership structure. It began in 1979 in response to the ‘lethargic, compromising, and increasingly corporate environmental community.’ [online] http://www.risingtides.org.uk
Emerging from the Belly of the Beast Fredric Jameson hypothesized in his Enclave Theory that – as with any movement, ‘small yet strategic pockets or beachheads [surface] within the older system… The emergent yet powerful kind will gradually extend its influence and dynamism over the older form… gradually “colonizing” what persists around it.’86 So long as organic communitarian farms, such as Tinker’s Bubble, exist far beyond the environs of the city; they will only ever be pockets of escape from the developed world, or at most test-beds for alternative living. Out-of-sight and out-of-mind, the occupants’ attitude towards recultivating their existance with nature will remain out in the countryside with them, while city dwellers remain oblivious to their existance. As Jameson implies, for attitudes to be challenged, the residents of Tinker’s Bubble need to develop these strategic ‘beachheads’ from within the city itself – the belly of the beast.
Attempts have already been made to develop farming space in the city, such as city farms. For example, Spitalfields City Farm in London was formed in 1978 ‘in response to local people’s wishes to convert wasteland into allotments, having lost theirs to developers.’87 The city farms typically grow vegetables and keep various animals such as goats, pigs, hens or sheep. They also run workshops and community projects, although the extent to which the farm can provide is generally restricted by tight land constraints and funding. At Spitalfields Farm, they host the ‘Coriander Club’: cookery classes in Indian cuisine using the fresh produce grown at the farm. They also accommodate a young offenders group, providing an opportunity for young people to grow and develop through engagement with their landscape.88 While the city farms provide a modest community service and a centre for learning ecology, animal husbandry, horticultural and rural skills, they generally get sidelined as petting zoos for school outings and volunteering activities for the unemployed and people with special needs. While these are worthy and respectful endeavours, the farms’ full potential remains untapped. Localising food production not only cuts down on carbon-dioxide emissions, embodied energy, and food-miles, it provides fresher food, local and seasonal specialities, and helps minimise waste developing a healthy connection between production and consumption. It also exposes local people to the processes of food production. One might argue that this exposure is unnecessary as food production is a ‘simple’ exercise and there is little to learn from it; however, a large proportion of the urban population do not know where an egg comes from, or the fact that it is intrinsic to a chicken’s reproductive system. This highlights the extent of our alienation from rural processes upon which we depend. It could be considered that simple exposure to these activities could assist movement towards a reduced alienated state; visual and mental engagement with the surface of these processes would be a first step.
86 Jameson, F. Architecture and the Critique of Ideology. In Michael Hays, K. (ed) Architecture Theory Since 1986 London: MIT 1998 p453 87 Spitalfields City Farm About the Farm 2006 [online] http://www.spitalfieldscityfarm.org [accessed 05 January 2007] 88 ibid.
Cultivating our Landscape CPULs: Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes, edited by André Viljoen, sets out a detailed plan converting London into a food producing city through ‘ecological intensification’. Viljoen describes a network of food producing landscapes, encompassing the existing and residual green spaces within the city, and connects them through a series of interventions to the city’s infrastructure. The CPUL network then provides a transport corridor through the city for pedestrians and cyclists, allowing them to travel through a rural landscape. Modelled on existing organic urban farms in Cuba, Nepal, and the Netherlands; Viljoen’s book provides a comprehensive, workable, economical strategy in reintroducing large scale food production into the city. Initially green spaces would be turned over to production, before residual spaces were reclaimed, and finally connecting roads would be grassed over to complete the vegetative corridor.89 The biodiversity of the city would improve, allowing migrating animals such as birds, insects and small mammals to move across the city; creating additional exposure to nature. CPULs will ‘enrich cities by reducing their environmental impact and bringing in spatial qualities until then only associated with rural or natural conditions.’90 While the social and environmental benefits are easy to appreciate, the big question that arises from Viljoen’s vision remains: ‘how and why would CPULs happen?’ Land rights are hilt-to-hilt in the highly dense metropolis of London. For this to happen, either public opinion would have to change, and priority placed upon fresh, organic, localised food – a trend which has gained momentum in recent years, although the perceived value in this system is far from levels required for action to be implemented on this scale; alternatively the system would be forced into place by necessity. The situation could develop where CPULs become more economic due to rising oil prices placing a premium on transport, restricting the movement and import of goods. By this point England would be in certain trouble as, even in our current situation, our productive land space can only support 18% of the food demands of the population.91 One could speculate that a rationing system might come into place, and a similar ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign would be implemented, as was necessary in London during the Second World War.
89 Viljoen, A. Bohn, K. CPULs Viljeon, A. (ed) Oxford: Architectural Press 2005 pp11-16 90 ibid. p15 91 Sustain City Harvets: The feasibility of growing more food in London Rochdale: Rap 1999 p120
Guerrilla Gardeners On hearing the name and objectives of the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’, a recent phenomenon sweeping London, prejudice might lead one to assume that these were a group of anarchists wrecking terror of an environmental nature. Tongue-in-check, this is true – although far from the stereotypical, aggressive anti-capitalist anarchism that is usually portrayed. The basic premise of the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ is to storm public places under cover of darkness and rejuvenate the dilapidated urban foliage in whatever way they can. They do no damage and enhance the area leaving private property well alone. A whole community has developed from this initial concept – started by Richard Reynolds, an advertising planner in his mid-twenties from Elephant and Castle, South-East London. Reynolds, originally from rural Devon, had grown tired of the neglected communal planters outside his block of flats. Suffering withdraw symptoms from a lack of garden space, Reynolds decided to take matters into his own hands and turn the concrete planters into a floral array.92 Since then the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ have performed countless ‘digs’ around the boroughs of London, and via the internet community, the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ have extended their reach overseas.
The ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ are often picked up on by the media and presented as a bit of light-hearted amusement. However, the effect of this movement resonates much further than a bunch of greenfingered urbanite do-gooders, deprived of their gardening fix. The ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ claim to have no political agenda and declare that their only objective is to make London greener with the motto: ‘Let’s fight the filth with forks and flowers’.93 Essentially the gardening is classed as criminal damage, but the authorities turn a blind eye to the activities – presumably so long as nothing turns sour. While the digs attract the attention of passing police, there is little reason for them to pursue matters, since the gardeners are essentially lightening the work load of currently over-laden local authorities. However, Reynolds talks of a time when the police raised questions, under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, believe it or not, over a can of chemical fertiliser that was being used on one particular project.94
The gardening projects help create a sense of community as people discuss, meet, dig and tend to the target spaces – often followed by a drink at a local pub. The heightened community cohesion is further enhanced due to the fact that local participants are reclaiming and reasserting municipal ownership of the abandoned areas. With these spaces ‘reclaimed’, a new sense of territory and engagement with place is established; similar to, yet more optimistic and enlivening, than graffiti. Graffiti artists use their ‘tags’ as collective or individual motifs, often drawing on local or group attributes such as skateboarding, fashion or political attitudes. In a similar way, target ‘digs’ receive a makeover
92 Gore, W. Green-fingered revolutionaries go to work Time Out London 25 October 2006 p12 93 Reynolds, R. Guerrilla Gardening Blog [online] http://www.guerillagardening.org [accessed 10 August 2006] 94 Gore, W. Green-fingered revolutionaries go to work Time Out London 25 October 2006 p12
sensitive to the local environment such as the December 2006 dig in New Cross, South East London.95 This project included the planting of an olive tree and two palm trees in response to the presence of a number of Turkish eateries in the vicinity. While the New Cross dig commenced, the Turkish owners of a nearby take-away joined the scene; thoroughly encouraged by the improvements, they supplied the workers with tea and biscuits, and a promise to help maintain the site.
The concept of guerrilla gardening is by no means new – the global guerrilla gardening movement has been the catalyst for some significant milestones in social and environmental struggles. For example, in New York City during the financial crisis of the 1970’s, many districts’ social structures were collapsing and large areas were becoming ghettos wrought with drug gangs and violence. In reaction to this reality, many residents enlivened abandoned lots and residual spaces to create guerrilla community gardens. The gardens flourished, abundant with flowers, fruit trees and vegetables etc. they soon became community hubs and spaces to relax and enjoy. The gardens hosted activities and workshops in dance, drama, yoga, poetry readings, painting and sculpture giving many local kids the opportunity to use their time creatively and constructively. Sara Ferguson, a journalist who moved next door to one of the community gardens, recalls:
It was a place for all people on our block to go and bond together. People had weddings there and birthdays there. People came and cooked meals there. On Friday and Saturday nights, people would all be out there eating together and playing drums.96
The guerrilla community gardens were a huge success and increased the cohesion within local communities, reduced crime and improved the diet of many inner city residents. At their peak, the gardens totalled 800 although with a new mindset and skills at hand, the movement spread beyond New York City as residents spread the word or migrated. Once the ball was rolling, and people could see the benefits brought to the communities who turn over a ‘green’ leaf, the community garden projects rolled across the city like a wave. By 1978 the city park department started the ‘Green Thumb’ programme which offered the communities plants, tools, expertise and a $1-per-year lease.97
Ironically, the gardens’ success was to be their downfall. With communities being rebuilt, and streetscapes enriched with flora; it was not long before housing developers saw the residual lots as prime real estate ready for development. The so called ‘Garden of Eden’ – one of the most successful
95 Jones, A. Guerrilla Gardening The London Paper 09 November 2006 pp10-11 96 Brooks, S. Seeds of Renewal: New York City’s Community Gardens Ecotipping Points [online] http://www.ecotippingpoints.org/urbangardensusa.asp [accessed 28 December 2006] 97 ibid.
lots – was demolished for low income housing in 1986. By 1994 a full scale plague of bulldozers came to turf the gardens out, to be re-covered by concrete.98
Civil Disobedience Although claiming to have no political agenda, the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ resemble the True Levellers, or ‘Diggers’, of the mid-seventeenth century. The Diggers were a band of men formed after the bloody Civil War. Food prices were at an all time high following the civil war99 and many peasants and landowners had lost family and land in their efforts to dethrone the King. They felt badly treated and unrewarded by society for their losses.100 They felt that the government had turned their back on them so they were lead to direct action. They gathered in 1649 on Saint George’s Hill in Surrey to sow parsnips, carrots and beans;101 it was recorded that the diggers had invited ‘all to come in and help them, and promised them meat, drink, and clothes.’102 The authorities sent horseback guard to disband the rabble, and thought nothing more of it.
However, the motives of the ‘Diggers’ lay far deeper than a simple desire to plant vegetables, it was a political act and a threat to the emerging forces of property ownership in the early stages of capitalism in Britain. With the monarchy executed at the end of the English Civil War the country was in turmoil. They had been led to believe that the war was meant to rid the country of the monarch’s power, but the results had merely been to pass power from one wealthy oppressive landlord to other more numerous, oppressive landlords, and so the peasants were in a worse situation than they had been before. Gerard Winstanley became the philosophical and theological voice for the group, as he laboured and campaigned in their cause. In addition to many pamphlets and essays, he published The New Law of Righteousness, which falls little short of a Communist Manifesto, bar his peaceful religious outlook.103 Quoting the well-know Christian proverb: ‘They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks’,104 Winstanley demanded that peace and equality will prevail by giving every man the right to use the residual land in the city to grow food for himself.
Today’s ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ are of course nothing like as radical towards the concept of ownership of property – or the balance of power. The gardeners, or ‘troops’ as they are referred to, predominantly comprise of mid-to-late-twenties young professionals, students, and those simply interested in gardening. It conjures up a ‘Robin Hood’ condition; participants enjoy the thrill of breaking the law while simultaneously regaining a little social and environmental justice – and the possibility of gaining
98 Brooks, S. Seeds of Renewal: New York City’s Community Gardens Ecotipping Points [online] http://www.ecotippingpoints.org/urbangardensusa.asp [accessed 28 December 2006] 99 Wikipedia Diggers (True Levellers) [online] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diggers_(True_Levellers) [accessed 20 November 2006] 100 Lodge, A. Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers [online] http://tash.gn.acp.org/winst1.htm [accessed 20 November 2006] 101 ibid. 102 Berens, L.H. The Digger Movement in the Days of the Commonwealth 2006 The Gutenberg Project [online] http://www.gutenberg.org [accessed 28/12/06] p24 103 Lodge, A. Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers [online] http://tash.gn.acp.org/winst1.htm [accessed 20 November 2006] 104 ibid.
a bit of limelight in the process. The activist/revolutionary type resemblances of the group understandably appeals to the reactionary late-twenty-somethings, who have little interest in going down the long and laborious road of changing public policy. The ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ attitude would challenge going down the road of politics, leading to potentially unfruitful results, but it is easier and quicker to simply take a spade to hand and do it yourself.
Following a questionnaire posed at the New Cross dig, it seemed that most participants indicated that they were doing this – amongst other reasons – because they have no garden of their own and because they wanted to make a difference in their community. It seemed that people involved saw the event as an opportunity to express themselves in a creative manner, while symbolically addressing their concerns about the urban landscape and the wider environment in London.
Speaking to the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’ during the New Cross dig gave the impression that although the gardeners are predominantly city dwelling urbanites – drawn by the social cohesion and career opportunities – most had experiences of nature at some point of their lives. Examples range from a rural childhood upbringing, holidays in the countryside to experiences during travelling or working abroad in less developed countries. Imogen, a fellow troop, spoke of an experience she had while working in rural Indonesia. She found that a number of her daily patterns became influenced by nature. She explained how she had developed an interaction with the moon, quickly learning that if she was too far from her accommodation before nightfall, she would struggle to find her way home in the pitch black night-time in the countryside. She began to understand the rhythms of the moon and anticipated either a dark or moonlit night; her landscape included the night sky and the solar system.
It was interesting to discover that the participants were predominantly uninterested in moving to the countryside and considered the city to be their home. While many had stories to tell of experiences of nature, these experiences were sojourns and they resided in the city. However, these experiences seemed to have made an impact upon their lives, shaping their character today. Their ‘tourist gaze’ had become ‘touristic engagement’. It could be considered that they had experienced an insight of nature, and therefore themselves, and through ‘Guerrilla Gardening’ wanted to bring a piece of this back to the city. This altruistic pursuit could almost be considered a pathetic attempt; a ‘David and Goliath’ scenario. ‘Guerrilla Gardening’ places high priority in the appropriation of residual spaces in the city landscape. These spaces by definition are of little interest to the general public; however if their aim is to get noticed and gain enthusiasm then what else what else could they do within the limits of the law? After all ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and David’s accuracy with his sling, knocked Goliath dead.
Although the act of ‘Guerrilla Gardening’ is an admirable pursuit, it could only remain a low-key, playful and enjoyable activity; the model could not realistically be repeated by every member of the
city. In fact, if every member of the city were to perform acts of guerrilla gardening, city life would become chaotic. This fact was brought to light during the London May Day riot in 2000 when protestors had planned on ‘replanting’ parliament square:
The essential point about …guerrilla gardening is that it is done by individuals or small groups in a very low-key way; it might not work exactly the same if 5,000 people all descended on the same area and tried to do it all at once.105
So long as guerrilla gardening is a small movement it works; no one complains so long as no harm is done. If the numbers swelled and people started planting everywhere, public policy would have to change to adapt to the increase in ‘digs’. The city has too high a population density for everyone to be as zealous about guerrilla gardening as the ‘Guerrilla Gardeners’. Guidelines and regulations would have to be implemented – one would assume this would lead to training courses, certificates, new developments in technologies and techniques, retail outlets, approved planting centres and inspectors and legislation; presumably the antithesis of Reynolds initial ambitions. So with this in mind, it stands to reason that guerrilla gardening could never be an answer to the lack of nature in our lives and landscape. It is a reactionary movement that highlights a vitally important issue – and if their actions attract media interest then this simply adds volumes to their protest voice. Meanwhile, so long as ‘Guerrilla Gardening’ remains a small movement, the city landscape provides a playground for ‘homo ludens’ such as Richard Reynolds and friends, with the opportunity for the next ‘dig’ round every corner.
Dig for Victory Environmental awareness leads to environmental action; organic food, farmers markets, allotments and homesteading is gaining increased interest. It could be considered that ‘Guerrilla Gardening’ is taking this attitude one step further in raising awareness, to rally action – a simple case of civil disobedience. The Guerrilla Gardeners are protesting about the demise of nature in our urbanised lives. One could extrapolate that the ‘Guerrilla Gardening’ movement is pushing social attitudes towards Viljoen’s vision of CPULs. While CPULs lack the liberal, spontaneous nature of ‘Guerrilla Gardening’, it provides the more workable solution for mass application and the complex issues surrounding land agreements. As with all movements it takes effort from the top, and from the bottom to topple the prevailing system. Attempts to change policy and demonstration that the general public are keen to see change, one would hope democracy would leave politicians little choice but to invest public money into changing our landscape. Both approaches, CPULs and Guerrilla Gardening, are
105 Do or Die Guerrilla? Gardening? Do or Die [online] 9 (69-81) 2001 http://www.eco-action.org/dod/no9/may_day.htm [accessed 29 December 2006]
gaining momentum and they simply have to keep moving.
While on the dig at New Cross, a number of members of the pubic expressed their appreciation of the work. One particular gentleman repeatedly told the troops that it had ‘really made his day’, this was probably due to a combination of the action being performed but also the energy of the community spirit displayed – the empowering sense that there people out there who care enough to do something.
Learning from Masanobu Fukuoka, we simply need to ‘be’ in Nature. The idea is easy, but the road is narrow. The search of what it means to ‘be’ is long, but reassessing our relationship and engaging with nature could be our only option. No amount of technology can hold back the tide, and any attempt to do so would simply disrupt Gaia’s feedback system elsewhere. While science and the technological instrumentalisation of our landscape has given us the ability to produce more capital, its pursuit of objectification and dehumanising the world has set us apart from nature; the divide has set the scenario of ‘them versus us’. Instead of fighting the land we stand on and cutting our own umbilical cord, we need to make amends and understand what it means to live in balance with nature – in tune with Gaia’s negative feedback system. What is the point of gaining the entire world’s capital only to loose sight of ourselves, and thus our lives? But first of all we need to acknowledge Gaia as our umbilical cord. In gaining an understanding of nature we could prevent the forewarned carnage of climate chaos. Or if Lovelock is correct, and we have passed the point of no return, understanding will provide those who survive the crash a way to ensure this will never happen again.
Dig! Dig! Dig! And your muscles will grow big Keep on pushing the spade Don't mind the worms Just ignore their squirms And when your back aches laugh with glee And keep on diggin' Till we give our foes a Wiggin' Dig! Dig! Dig! to Victory106
106 h2g2 Dig for Victory! The BBC [online] 2004 http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/ [accessed 29 December 2006]
Guerrilla Gardening ‘dig’ at New Cross Questionare to Guerrilla Gardeners during New Cross ‘dig’ Questionare to Guerrilla Gardeners online community blog
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Appendix A: An article in a London Newspaper regarding the Guerrilla Gardeners’ New Cross ‘dig’. Jones, A. On The Road With the Guerrilla Gardeners The London Paper 09 November 2006
Appendix B: Questionnaires posed to Guerrilla Gardeners while at New Cross ‘dig’
Appendix C: Questioners posed to Guerrilla Gardeners website community.
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